Early Antiviral Therapy Prevents Severe COVID-19 Illness in High-Risk Patients

By Kim Polacek, APR, CPRC - January 10, 2022

As the omicron variant of COVID-19 continues to spread rapidly, health officials are working to determine the best treatment strategies to reduce the risk of severe illness and hospitalization for those who may become infected.

Currently, there are two therapies approved for the treatment of severe COVID illness: monoclonal antibody therapy and antiviral medications. Monoclonal antibodies are given by intravenous infusion and provide the body with antibodies that can attach to the virus and prevent it from spreading, similar to the way your immune system would respond after vaccination. Antiviral medications, such as remdesivir, are also administered intravenously but work differently. The medication attacks the virus, blocking its ability to replicate and spread throughout the body.

Headshot of Dr. John Greene
Dr. John Greene, Chair, Infection Diseases Program

“Both therapies are indicated for patients to prevent severe COVID illness, but with the omicron variant vaccinated and immunocompetent patients are having milder symptoms. And given the highly contagious nature of this variant, we’re seeing more cancer patients testing positive for COVID,” said Dr. John Greene, chair of the Infectious Diseases Program at Moffitt Cancer Center. “While it is still unclear how effective monoclonal antibodies are against the newest variant, antiviral medications can work for all variants. At Moffitt, we are evaluating the best treatment for our COVID positive patients given their immunocompromised status.”

Late last month, The New England Journal of Medicine reported the results of a pivotal clinical trial, which demonstrated that administering a three-day course of remdesivir to high-risk patients with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 87%. Greene says this data provides oncologists with a new option for cancer patients who may become COVID positive but have milder symptoms, but stresses there are challenges including remdesivir supply availability, hospital logistics and patients’ willingness to commit to three days of therapy.

“We are still working out the logistics, but our goal is to get as many COVID positive patients the remdesivir therapy. However, we need to do it in a safe way where we are not putting patients or staff at risk for infection. We are also being mindful of our supply of the antiviral therapy,” said Greene.

Two additional antiviral therapies have been approved by the FDA for the treatment of COVID. However, it is unclear when those medications will become widely available.

Greene says the best way to protect you and your loved ones from COVID infection is vaccination, including the recommended booster doses. He also urges practicing social distancing and wearing a mask when in large crowds.  

“While there have been a large number of breakthrough COVID infections among vaccinated people with the omicron variant, the vaccine does reduce the risk of severe illness,” said Greene.

Contact the Author

Kim Polacek, APR, CPRC Senior PR Account Coordinator 813-456-3342 More Articles


Most Popular